airport amenities

The comeback (maybe) of the airport observation deck

LaGuardia Airport’s former Observation Deck – courtesy Port Authority of NY and NY

My “At the Airport” column on USA TODAY this month looks at airport observation decks in the United States. Then and now.

The full story has more than 30 photos, so be sure to take a look over there, but here are some of my favorite photos shared by airports.

Observation Deck at Friendship International Airport – now Baltimore/Washington International Airport.
Observation Gallery at BWI Airport – now
Missoula International Airport. Courtesy Dan Neuman
Oklahoma’s City’s Will Rogers World Airport once had an Observation Tower
When the Central Terminal opened in 1954, the building included an Observation Deck – look for the railings on the upper level.
SFO’s brand new observation deck has plants, art and chaise lounges. Nice, right?

Where are your favorite airport observation decks?

Travel Tidbits: airport nursing pods, gyms and more

Welcome to StuckatTheAirport.com. Here are some travel tidbits for you.

Nursing pods for 4 NY/NJ airports

Paying close attention to legislation that requires large and medium airports to provide lactation areas in every terminal by October 2020, the Port Authority of NY/NJ has upgraded the Mamava lacation pods in its four commercial airports.

The new, post-security nursing facilities are larger versions of the previous pods and include 12 at JFK, nine at Newark Liberty International Airport, six at LaGuardia Airport, and one at New York Stewart International Airport.

More in-airport gyms on the way

ROAM Fitness, which has an in-airport gym at Baltimore/Washington International Airport, has a contract to open a second location this summer at San Francisco International Airport Terminal 2 in collaboration with XpresSpa.

More app-powered gate-delivery meals on the way

At Your Gate, which currently provides app-powered gate delivered meals at five airports – San Diego International Airport, Newark International Airport, LaGuardia Airport, JFK T2 and Minneapolis Int’l Airport – will soon add Portland International Airport as its sixth location.

And Airport Sherpa, which currently offers a similar app-powered gate delivery service for meals at Baltimore/Washington International Airport, has inked a deal with airport restaurateur HMSHost to offer on-demand mobile ordering and food delivery at all the North American airports where HMSHost operates. No word yet on the timetable for the roll-out beyond BWI, only that the plan is to “quickly introduce the technology with strategic airport partners throughout the United States,” says HMSHost.

Good work, AtYourGate

As the tweet above notes, the in-airport gate delivery app service called AtYourGate is marking the one-year anniversary of its debut at San Diego International Airport with a $5 off promo (AYGFREE), plus free delivery.

The promo code is good for use on Tuesday, February 5 in all the airports AtYourGate now serves.

Since its debut at SAN a year ago, AtYourGate has expanded its service beyond SAN to Newark Liberty International Airport (Terminals A and B, and the pre-security area of Terminal C), LaGuardia Airport (Terminal B), JFK Airport (Terminal 7) and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

How does AtYourGate work?

Say you (or you and your kids) go through the security checkpoint and find a nice spot to sit by the window near your gate.

Rather than gather up all your things to go get something to eat, AtYourGate lets you open an app, check menus of restaurants in your terminal and (nice touch) in others.

When you make your choices, the app lets you place your order on your phone. Someone picks up the order and delivers it to you where you’re sitting.

In most of the airports they serve, AtYourGate will also delivery non-food items, such as neck pillows and phone chargers as well.

There’s a small delivery charge (waived on Feb 5), but otherwise you’re paying the posted menu prices. You’re also getting the convenience of not having to roam the terminals. And it means you’re not limited to the options in the concourse or terminal you happen to be leaving from.

I’ve been covering AtYourGate since before its roll-out. Last week I walked Newark Airport Terminals 1 and 2 with a representative of AtYourGate (Thank-you, Mike, for your time) and learned some bonus details about how the service operates. And I got to see the team in action.

A few things I learned:

*Orders you make via the AtYourGate app go to the front of the line at the concessions you’re ordering from.

*The AtYourGate delivery team is dispatched by app as well and is ready to grab the order the moment it is ready so they can hustle it over to you in an insulated bag.

*Because TSA employees have learned how great it is to get a meal delivered to where you are in the airport, the AtYourGate employees get VIP treatment at the security checkpoints.

*I followed along for a couple of deliveries between terminals and had to hustle to keep up with the delivery people. AtYourGate promises delivery within a certain timeframe, so the hustle wasn’t to impress me.

Travel tidbits to start 2019

Easing into 2019 by catching up on some newsy item.

Last week United Airlines announced it was bringing back the sweet stroopwaffel on flights.

Besides being a nice sweet snack to have with a cup of coffee, the stroopwafel offers passengers something to do: United tells passengers to warm up the stroopwafel by taking it out of the package and setting it on top of their coffee.

On New Year’s eve, Las Vegas McCarran International Airport offered travelers a silent disco in the bag claim area.

Had we known this was on the agenda, the airport disco would have made our list of Best Airport Amenities of 2018.

Going forward, the folks at 10Best have teamed up with Airport Experience News (AXN) to ask travelers to weigh in on some of the best airport amenites in North America.

Categories include Best Airport Bar, Best Airport for Dining, Best Airport for Shopping, Best Airport for Local/Regional Dining – and more.

Cast your vote – once a day through January 28 – here.

Here at StuckatTheAirport.com we have some favorite airports and airport amenities, but we’re always on the lookout for airport offerings that are brand new.

What amenities do you hope to see at airports in 2019? Let us know!

Best airport amenities 2018

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If you travel you’re going to end up spending a lot of time in airports.

And if you spend a lot of time in airports, you’re going to spend a lot of time sitting around.

And once you’re done with that, you’ll hopefully start taking a look around at the shops, the restaurants, the views out the window and the often truly creative amenities designed to make your dwell time more enjoyable – or at least a bit less unbearable.

For my USA TODAY column, called “At the Airport“, I do a round-up of the best amenities rolled out by airports each year.

For 2017, celebrated perks included the 24-hour ‘microcinema’ at Portland International Airport, Pittsburgh International Airport’s introduction of “MyPITpass,” which allows the non-flying public to visit the secure side of the airport, and the opening of ROAM Fitness, an in-airport gym at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The 2018 list of “Best Airport Amenities” is full of fresh new amenities and creative bonus activities.

Here are some of the best. Drop a note if I missed one of your favorites:

Go with the glow

Airport restroom lines get long when users can’t tell which stalls are empty.

To solve that problem, in April, Los Angeles International Airport debuted a pilot program in one set of Terminal 4 restrooms using Tooshlights’ smart latches on stall doors. When a door is closed, a light over the stall turns red; when the latch is open, the light turns green. The latches are paired with the Infax smart restroom technology, which tracks usage and real-time feedback to improve restroom cleaning schedules. 

In July, a set of restrooms at ATL got smart technology in a set of loos too.

See ya’ later alligator

The list of airports welcoming therapy dogs into the terminals keeps expanding. In 2017 Denver International Airport for upping the ante by adding Xeli the cat to its Canine Airport Therapy Squad known as CATS. This year Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport raised the bar by scheduling weekly visits with baby alligators. What’s next?

Start the vacation at the airport

Airports say they’re the front doors to their cities. Louisville International Airport takes that to heart with HMSHost’s new Book & Bourbon Southern Kitchen, which features more than 85 bourbons and qualifies as an official stop on Kentucky’s Urban Bourbon Trail.

Travelers can pick up a trail passport and get their first stamp before they leave the airport or top off their stamps on the way home.

This year HMSHost also opened the Whiskey River restaurant and bar at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, offering music six days a week, a wall covered in belt buckles and a selfie-friendly stationary bull.  

New ways to work & play at DFW Airport

In July, two Gameway video game entertainment lounges opened at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, by Gates B42 and E16. Each of the 36 gaming stations is equipped with a leather chair, an Xbox One loaded with 19 games, a 43” TV, noise cancelling headphones, charging ports and space to store luggage.

For those who need to get work instead of play, Varidesk just launched a free, staffed co-working space at DFW (by Gate C12) with a conference table for meetings and 24 workstations outfitted with power hubs and adjustable standing desks.

Hungry gate huggers have more options

This year OTG expanded the gate areas where passengers use iPads to order food and drinks and At Your Gate joined Airport Sherpa in offering food delivery to passengers anywhere in the airports they serve. Airport Sherpa is still only at BWI Airport, but during 2018 At Your Gate began running food and drink orders to gates at both San Diego International and Newark Liberty International Airports.

Early bag drop service at Denver International Airport

Self-service bag check offers convenience at the check-in counter, but in May remote bag drop off service was introduced at the car rental center at Tampa International Airport.

Denver International Airport introduced the service in November and now allows travelers to drop their bags off at shuttle parking lots and the airport transit center. The drop off service is free, but airline bag fees still apply.

Free drop off service is available to DEN passengers arriving at least 90 minutes before their flights and traveling domestically on Southwest, United, Delta and American Airlines. At DEN’s Pikes Peak and Mt. Ebert shuttle parking lots, personnel greet arriving cars, remove luggage from the car, check in passengers and print out boarding passes. Then passengers park and jump on the shuttle to the terminal.

Phoenix Sky Harbor began offering a similar early bag drop service back in 2013, eventually extending it to the rental car center, but discontinued the program last year.

Getting to the gate without a ticket

In what we hope may signify a trend, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport ran a pilot program to allow the non-flying public to go beyond the security checkpoints.

The SEA Visitor Pass pilot program worked much like the year-round, TSA-sanctioned “myPITpass” program that Pittsburgh International Airport debuted last year. At SEA, access hours were limited and visitors had to apply for a pass and go through the security checkpoint just like regular passengers. But once “in” the pass holders could shop, dine, check out the art and entertainment, accompany a loved one to the gate, or be there waiting when they get home.

Can’t miss airport art

The new Concourse A expansion at Charlotte Douglas International Airport is home to “Interconnected,” a giant digital artwork made up of three hi-definition LED media walls measuring over 2,000 square feet. The largest public artwork of its kind in the country, the media walls display constantly changing abstract images derived from airport operations data, including flight arrivals and departures, baggage handling and ground transportation.

Bonus activities and great ideas

Once again, our list of special events, pop-ups and cool ideas is long.

In February, just in time for Valentine’s Day, a pop-up license bureau opened in the baggage claim at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas to help lovebirds streamline the process of getting married in Sin City. Couples couldn’t get married at the airport but picking up the license at the airport meant they could skip stopping at longer line at the clerk’s office in town.

This year New York’s LaGuardia Airport and Pittsburgh International Airport each welcomed their first artists-in-residence. PIT airport also introduced a 6-month pop-up of the do-it-yourself paint studio called Paint Monkey. And in March, to mark what would have been Fred Rogers’ 90th birthday and the issuing of a Mister Rogers Forever stamp, PIT Airport held an event that included red cardigan-wearing employees, complimentary red shoelaces and “You’re special, too” buttons, and a ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ memory board.

Also in March, San Antonio International Airport marked Dr. Seuss Day with an event that included airport and airline employees and passengers reading Dr. Seuss books to children.

On April 1, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport raised eyebrows, and dashed some travelers’ hopes, with the April Fool’s Day announcement of an aircraft viewing area with an outdoor pool.

In August, Philadelphia International Airport installed a short story dispenser in the airport’s Virtual Library in the D/E Connector. Kiosks users press a button to request a print-out (on eco-friendly paper) of a fiction story that can be read in one, three or five minutes.

And we’re happy to report that Denver International Airport continues to make good use of the outdoor plaza between the terminal and the Westin hotel. A pop-up park, complete with native Colorado trees and plants, showed up in July, the “Beer Flights” beer garden returned in September (to coincide with worldwide Oktoberfest celebrations) and a free ice-skating rink, with free skate rentals, is open now through January 6, 2019.

Here’s to a great 2019 filled with even more cool airport amenities!